The Essential Five Drivers in Life

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By: Katie Benson, Director of Expansion for Xperience Real Estate 

As my coach Kate Patulski said the other day, there are actually TWO pandemics going on right now. The COVID 19 pandemic and the FEAR pandemic. Which one do you think is more powerful and has more propensity to cause the most DAMAGE?

Ultimately, there are only ever two energies at work in the world FEAR or LOVE and yet when a higher percentage of people in the WORLD resonate in fear, the collective energy of the planet is grossly affected in a negative way. I recently participated in a Mastermind offered by “Your Performance People” and we talked through a few powerful strategies for the fear pandemic that we are all, to some extent, participating in. Part of what we’re dealing with here is a HIJACKED brain! 

In terms of brain science, a hijacked brain is a brain that is lacking the ability to think logically. The REASON for this, is there is a nerve that runs from the amygdala (the area of the brain that controls your fight or flight response) all the way to the prefrontal cortex (where logical thinking and reasoning occurs). When the amygdala is plagued with FEAR, it actually SHUTS DOWN the nerve that runs from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex THUS IMPAIRING the brain’s ability to think in a logical manner. Clearly you can see the challenge with a brain that cannot think logically, right? Of course you can, if a brain cannot reason in a logical way the decisions or reactions executed are more emotional in nature and likely the kind of reactions that will cause damaged relationships or a quick trip to the looney bin. 

Unfortunately, FEAR doesn’t actually stay localized within the amygdala, it has a nasty habit of spreading rather quickly to other areas of the brain. When this happens, the fear begins to affect other areas of the brain and the fear flooded individual begins to exhibit symptoms or behaviors. Simply put, a very logical person may begin acting quite erratically as a result of their BRAIN being overrun by fear, also known as the BRAIN HIJACK! 

A hijacked brain will exhibit behaviors or symptoms indicative of its owners orientation. What I mean by that is an individual’s predisposition towards ATTACKING or RETREATING will dictate the TYPE of behavior or symptoms associated with the owners predisposition towards one of these ways of being or response reflex. 

An individual predisposed towards attacking may temporarily respond to FEAR with anger, aggression, shouting, emotionally charged conversations, impulsive strategic behavior, or they might experience foggy thinking, an inability to deal with complexity, and a general lack of clarity. 

An individual predisposed towards retreating could respond to FEAR with avoidance, delayed decisions, tunnel vision on problems, or they might be paralyzed by inaction or simply just walk away and quite possibly binge watch Netflix as a way to escape the fear that has overruled the logical thinking ability of their brain. 

Regardless of predisposition, it’s the RESPONSE that’s important for us to notice if the intent is to UNHIJACK the brain or help the individual regain their reasoning ability.

When leading or coaching PEOPLE, it’s necessary to be able to IDENTIFY these fear based symptoms simply because they may not even be aware that their brain has been HIJACKED.  

Now to be clear, it’s not just FEAR that causes these symptoms and behaviors. OVERWHELM can also overload the amygdala and cause very similar symptoms in both the attacker and the retreater. Have you ever had so much on your plate that you can’t figure out what to do first? That’s your brain hijacked by “TOO MUCH TO DO”! For us to regain our logical reasoning capability we must first alleviate the pressure on the nerve running from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex. 

Here’s the thing, FEAR is UNCONSCIOUS and can affect your brain without you even being aware of what may have caused the fear to begin with- think, constant news feed running in the background – even if you’re not consciously paying attention, it’s having an effect. 

ANOTHER clue into a hijacked brain is the INABILITY to see the FUTURE and the PAST in a positive light. Even positive events from the past are seen and packaged as negative to a hijacked brain. 

When you notice this in yourself or others, it’s one of the first clues that your brain has been HIJACKED! 

Here’s the thing, WE CANNOT TALK PEOPLE OUT of FEELING the way they feel! It doesn’t work! Have you ever attempted this type of pep talk? I have too and it was highly unsuccessful. Because FEAR is coming from deep inside the brain stem, it’s much more challenging to eradicate WHICH MEANS, we must take a different approach. 

Ultimately we must determine which one of what Coach Kate Patulski calls the “ESSENTIAL FIVE” is missing from the individual’s current world view. In doing so, we gain back the logical reasoning capability of our incredibly powerful brain. We UNHIJACK the brain from the fear that’s running the individual.  REMEMBER, we BEHAVED our way INTO the situation which clearly illustrates our ability to BEHAVE our way OUT of the situation


  1. Self Esteem

  2. Control

  3. Orientation

  4. Attachment 

  5. Pleasure

If one or more of these essential five drivers is missing, one or more of the SYMPTOMS discussed above begin to show up. 

Here are a few strategies for each of the Essential Five. This will allow YOU to unhijack your OWN BRAIN or help one of the people you lead/coach to UNHIJACK theirs. 

If SELF ESTEEM is the missing essential, discovering where the insecurity lies and allowing for PRACTICE AND TRAINING in that area will effectively increase feelings of courage and self worth. 

Another tactic Holly Priestner and I were discussing the other day is taking the individual back to a time in their life where they felt the MOST CONFIDENT and the MOST self assured. As they “sit with” that feeling, inevitably they begin to feel more confident about the current circumstances (THINK: PTFAR from BOLD – your PROGRAMMING leads to your THOUGHTS which leads to your FEELINGS which leads to your ACTIONS which ultimately leads to your RESULTS). 

What if CONTROL is the missing essential

When we feel like we have no control over our world the fear symptoms will begin to show up! I would imagine that due to “shelter in place” being mandatory in most of the United States of America, many of us aren’t feeling extremely ‘in control’ of what’s happening in our lives. 

How might we gain back CONTROL

Asking the question “well what CAN you control right now?” is an effective way to focus an individual on the parts of life that ARE within their control. Creating CHOICE is paramount here. In one of my favorite “letters to the company” from Chris Suarez, he talks about controlling your first hour of the day. If the ONLY THING you can control is WHAT YOU DO during your morning routine, ensure you begin your day with something that will put you into a resourceful state of being. In that way, you control how your day progresses by dictating the actions you begin your day with. ANOTHER more tactical way to regain control could be to redesign your perfect week! YOU DO have control over your schedule! In designing or redesigning your time blocks, you are regaining control over the actions and FOCUS of your day. As long as you fully commit to that new ‘perfect week’ schedule, you can design it any way you please and regain the control you feel you are missing.


What exactly IS orientation? Orientation is having CLARITY on the next steps required to move towards the outcomes you desire. It’s understanding how everything fits into your world and who does what. When orientation is missing, spinning is the outcome. Spinning is characterized by lots of activity and not a lot of the MOST PRODUCTIVE activity. Remember, evidence of a hijacked brain is characterized by the inability to see the future in a positive light. Coach Kate Patulski had an incredible solution for this. Journal the future projection of WHO YOU BECOME when the external circumstances come to an end. 

Journal about HOW THE YEAR ENDS, how the situation ends, or even HOW THE WEEK will end. Journal about who you become through that process. If we consciously write out how we would choose for the story to end, it naturally focuses the brain on a more positive future because let’s face it, who would end the story with “we’re all going to die” – NOBODY! That’s not what we would choose to create is it? NOT EVEN! Orientation creates POSSIBILITIES for the FUTURE while causing the dopamine levels in the brain to SPIKE and will ultimately reduce the cortisol hijacking your brain! Before you know it, you start feeling better. You begin to see a different perspective. Future projection will allow you to narrow your focus and choose what action to take next that will allow that future to come to fruition. This strategy can also give you a keen sense of PURPOSE. Gaining a deeper sense of PURPOSE will naturally boost your orientation. It can feel very uncertain not knowing what is going to happen next and YET if we can STOP and ask ourselves “in my immediate purpose (today) what’s most important” AUTOMATICALLY we create a sense of orientation for ourselves. Empowering right? 

There are a lot of “IDEAS” floating around out there right now and when our brain is overwhelmed with IDEAS it can completely shut down the creative thinking ability of the prefrontal cortex. Operating from a “do more with less” strategy CAN ALSO overwhelm the brains of the people within the organization and CAUSE performance to go down. I am not saying maintain the current budget, I am saying YES make the necessary budget cuts but cut the FLUFF and the non ROI producing expenditures, don’t cut the ESSENTIALS your people need to do what they do at a high level. 

Another option for creating a more positive orientation might be to write down 2-3 things you do REALLY REALLY WELL. This IGNITES possibility thinking and additionally gives the individual a sense of control (we’re hitting TWO of the FIVE Essentials with that one).  


This is BONDING and creates the chemical known as oxytocin in your brain. COULD WE BE missing a little BONDING during shelter in place? YES that’s a possibility! HOW could we create that feeling of attachment virtually? Dr. Coplin at Portland Clinic of Holistic Health shared a story with me this evening. He comes from a large Greek family and he said “it’s bad enough when we all get together in person with everybody talking over each other, and on zoom it’s downright impossible”. It made me laugh and yet WHAT IS CREATED during those large family zooms is ATTACHMENT. Even if nobody can understand what the other is saying, there’s a sense of togetherness that’s created EVEN in that virtual space. 

Finally, what about FUN? 

PLEASURE and ENJOYMENT must be part of the world we create or we’re missing a key element of our own personal happiness. Choose to purposefully insert pleasure into your daily routine. ENJOYMENT of LIFE will cause feelings of joy and JOY is what makes life fun. I’m positive I don’t have to share a strategy for this one…. It’s already inside of you, just allow it to come out. Each of us could think of at least 2-3 things we TRULY ENJOY. 

Commit to just NOTICING when your brain is hijacked and implement one or more of the strategies above – you feel more at peace, more in control, more self assured, more courageous, more connected to others, more certain of a positive future, and more fulfilled as you walk through whatever external circumstance is causing the current upset AND you’ll have more fun doing it 🙂